Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
The influenza epidemic of 1918 was one of the most destructive outbreaks of disease ever recorded. An estimated 20 million people around the world died, including about 600,000 in the U.S., and many times that were taken ill. With so much of the world's population infected, it was almost impossible to escape the disease. An excerpt from The Post of Oct. 5, 1918:
With 20 deaths yesterday due to influenza, reports from all sources last night indicated that the epidemic in the District was increasing rather than decreasing, in spite of the drastic preventive measures taken. Although Federal and municipal authorities were hopeful that the malady had reached its peak, they refused to be optimistic over the outlook. Cooperating with the public health service, the District commissioners yesterday ordered the clergy to omit all church services and ordered the city's playgrounds closed.
Commissioner Brownlow also issued a personal appeal that all private dances and social activities, involving the congregating of persons in private homes, be called off. This action, following the closing of public and private schools and all places of amusement, was the principal precautionary measure taken yesterday. ...
A meeting of the Pastors' Federation of the city has been called by the president to meet today at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church at 11 o'clock, to take action relative to the order closing the churches to public worship tomorrow. It was stated last night that it was expected steps would be taken to cooperate with the authorities in efforts to abate the spread of influenza.
Nearly every pastor in the city announced last night that the commissioner's church closing order would be obeyed. Services like liberty loan rallies will be held in the open at the usual time. If the weather is bad tomorrow, mass in some of the Catholic churches may be held inside. There will be services on the lawn of St. Paul's Catholic Church, beginning on the hour from 6 until 11 o'clock. Vesper services will be held on the lawn at Immanuel Baptist Church tomorrow afternoon at 5 o'clock.
The church closing order follows:
"Whereas the epidemic of influenza in the District of Columbia by its rapid spread threatens to impair the effectiveness of the machinery of the Federal government, and whereas the surgeon general of the United States public health service and the health officer of the District of Columbia have advised the commissioners of the District of Columbia that indoor public assemblages constitute a public menace at this time; therefore, be it ordered by the commissioners of the District of Columbia that all church services be omitted until further action by the commissioners."
A few hours later Commissioner Brownlow issued an order to the effect that every person in charge of a patient suffering from influenza shall send to the health officer of the District, a certificate written in ink and signed, stating the name, age, sex and color of the patient, the school which he or she attended, if any, and the address. Any person violating any provisions of the order will be punished upon conviction by a fine not exceeding $50 for the first offense and for each subsequent offense by a fine not exceeding $100.00.